D&D: 10 best tips for building a world

While tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons have many established settings to choose from – ranging from traditional fantasy to sci-fi – many dungeon masters may want to try their hand at creating their own setting, in a process commonly known as “dungeon building”. world”.

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Creating an entirely new world can be both a daunting task and extremely rewarding. Knowing where to start and how to flesh out a frame that feels organic and lived-in can be a difficult process made easier with a few tips.

ten Get inspired by books and media


berserk knight skull

Beginning the world-building process for a new tabletop game is one of the hardest parts, with an almost endless amount of possibilities making it hard to know where to start. Many DMs looking to create a whole new world may also struggle to find the spark of originality to lean on.

Often the best place to look for that inspiration is in the books, TV, and movies the creator already enjoys. Picking one or two elements from a beloved story will give a solid foundation to work from, and the rest can be built from there.

9 Mix and match settings and genres


While traditional fantasy dominated TTRPGs as the setting of choice in early iterations, they steadily branched out to encompass more and more genres. This gives worldbuilders plenty of options to choose from, but some may struggle to find a setting that feels unique to them.

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A simple way to add a little variety to a decor is to incorporate elements from other genres. Mixing fantasy creatures into a sci-fi setting or creating a Cthulhu-style horror setting with Steampunk technology can add just enough flair to keep things fresh and quirky.


8 Build pieces of the world around player stories


When creating a setting for a tabletop game, the creator would be wise to consider working within player stories in the world itself. Building from the stories players have imagined for their characters is an easy way to spark new ideas and keep the party invested in the world as they can see the direct impact their characters have on it.

It’s also a good way to help generate quests and storylines that directly interact with the world, which is important for keeping players interested in learning more about the setting rather than just seeing it as just a canvas. background.


7 Start small and grow outward


Once the spark of an idea has been generated, and the very rough base of the world has begun to take shape, it’s important not to get bogged down trying to build from the roof up. Every frame requires a solid foundation, which often means looking at things on the small scale rather than the large scale.

While it’s important to brainstorm ideas of deities, cultures, and nations, focusing on a regional level will be much more effective in creating a setting for a tabletop game. Developing a smaller area will also allow for more natural expansion as the area is filled with more detail and connections to other parts of the world.


6 Leave elements vague to accommodate player improvisation and actions


Many Dungeon Masters and World Builders can fall into the trap of believing that if they don’t know all the details of the world, they will run into trouble when players inevitably choose to investigate something unexpected. While this is likely to happen at some point, it presents an opportunity rather than a problem.

There are two ways to approach such a situation, the first being to simply improvise a response. This can often lead to some very spontaneous and interesting world-building elements that can be worked into the story later. The other is to allow the players themselves to create the responses, which can be a great way to give the party agency in creating the world around their characters.


5 Don’t dwell on the details


A druid surrounded by animals in the forest Dungeons and Dragons

It can be extremely tempting to focus on diving into every element of a world when developing a new setting. It can be very rewarding and can make the world feel really alive, but getting too bogged down in the details can be more of a hindrance than anything.

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It is important to remember that not all aspects of the setting will necessarily be explored in depth, even if the dungeon master intends to do so. Having a large amount of locations to explore and lore to uncover can be more beneficial, and also allows players to decide which parts of the setting they find most interesting while digging deeper.


4 Use online organizers or tools to keep track of everything


A caster casting Foresight in Dungeons & Dragons

As the set becomes more and more crowded, it can become difficult to keep track of all the different items that have gone into it, especially if until then they are kept in a collection of text documents and reference pictures.

There are plenty of tools online that can be helpful in organizing these things, many of which aren’t necessarily designed solely for worldbuilding. Some great options for world builders are specifically Obsidian, which is a note organization tool, and World Anvil, a website specifically designed for creating unique settings, both of which have free and paid options.




3 Weave plot elements into the world


A wizard summoning a spectral wolf in dungeons and dragons

Once the world starts to be largely developed, it’s a good time to start thinking about how the setting is going to fit into the campaign. Making set pieces an integral part of the campaign plot is the best way to keep players interested in the world and will help ensure that all the effort put into creating it won’t be wasted.

When building the world with the intention of playing a tabletop game in this setting, considering how the two will work hand in hand is something that will often come naturally. Often creating an interesting plot or story will help inform the world-building in interesting and unexpected ways.


2 Don’t be afraid to change elements if necessary


A wizard casting a fire spell in Dungeons and Dragons

Much like when running a normal tabletop game using an established setting, situations can arise when plots and oddities arise that challenge certain elements of the story and setting. Being flexible when situations like this arise will often save the creator a lot of trouble in the long run, rather than sticking rigidly to the structure they’ve built.

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Most of the time, the goal of worldbuilding is not just to create something for the satisfaction of the creator, but also to tell a story enjoyed by a group or audience. Considering player interests and thoughts will allow for a world that grows and evolves, and may even surprise the creator with some of the ways it may change over time.


1 Don’t get stuck in world building and just play the game


The book cover of Tales from the Yawning Portal Dungeons & Dragons

Ultimately, when creating a world for a tabletop game, the goal is to actually play a game within that setting. The term “worldbuilder disease” is often used to refer to creators who get so caught up in developing their environment that they never end up doing anything with it.

It’s important to remember that not all parts of a set need to be completely ready before a game can be played on it. It’s perfectly viable to start a campaign in a world where only one or two regions are properly fleshed out and slowly expand the story to new areas as they are built. Often the game itself will help create this setting, and the thrill of seeing the world come to life through player actions can be a huge motivator for any creator.

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